It's refreshing, actually. I just listened to Charles say that the torture of terror suspects in 2002 was justified because the United States was flying blind and had no knowledge of what al Qaeda was planning. He won't say "torture", of course, although the law is clear that it is torture. (He and Fox News keep referring to the notion of "harsh interrogation techniques". I think they realized that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" was a little too close to the Gestapo's euphemism for comfort.) And he then said that destroying the tapes was justified because you don't want them coming up on YouTube, do you? So there you have it: the government has a right to torture when it feels like it and the right to destroy the evidence because it would incriminate them and hurt the image of the United States. Again, I keep pinching myself that I am actually hearing these things on the television.
I realize, of course, that that's the actual argument that Bush and Cheney make to themselves behind closed doors. I guess it's refreshing, if a little chilling, to hear a proud defense of lawlessness and violence at the heart of a constitutional republic on national television. But there are several critical and revealing premises behind it. The first is that the United States has effectively withdrawn from the Geneva Conventions. To say that the president can waive them at any time if he sees fit is to say that the United States is not bound by its treaty obligations. The second is that the president is not bound by any law or treaty governing the laws of warfare. Bush and Cheney won't say this because if they did, the jig would be up. The Constitution is extremely clear that the laws of warfare are determined by the Congress, not the president. So it's up to the Beltway Boys to defend the suspension of the rule of law and the legalization of torture as executive prerogatives, in violation of the Constitution. Hey: we're at war. The Constitution is now optional.
Notice also that this isn't the ticking time bomb case that Charles has previously invoked to defend torture. There was no imminent threat to hundreds of thousands of people; we had no way of knowing for sure that Zubaydah had any knowledge of such a devastating threat; and we have no independent way of knowing whether the information he allegedly gave up under torture was factually accurate. And so in the initial cases of torture under this administration, we discover it was used simply because we had no good intelligence of future threats; and we decided to use torture for a fishing expedition. So much for the rare exception to the rule.
The defenders of torture are always saying that it can be used "judiciously" and in extremely limited circumstances, that it can be controlled within the executive branch; that it need not metastasize into a broader policy, and need not trickle down to others. But from all the facts we now know, this executive decision to rescind the Geneva Conventions began with cases that were already beneath the "ticking time bomb" scenario, and within months spread like wildfire across every theater of combat, including every major branch of the armed services, leading to scores of deaths in interrogation, almost casual if brutal torture of (often innocent) suspects in Afghanistan and Iraq, secret torture sites in Eastern Europe, God knows what in outsourced torture in the grim redoubts of Uzbek, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian police states, and, of course, the excrescence of Abu Ghraib, which Bush had the gall to say he had nothing to do with.
So when you look at what torture has done already to the United States, we see that every bad scenario that those of us who oppose torture feared has actually come about. And we have no independent evidence that it has solved anything, or saved any lives, except the self-serving statements of those who authorized it. And the truth is: we will probably never know. If they are cynical and brazen enough to destroy incriminating tapes, they are cynical and brazen enough to destroy any evidence within the executive branch that could prove that their torture policy has failed. If this isn't a form of tyranny, annexed to torture, what is? And if the executive branch can simply get away with it, and have serious commentators defend the president's trashing of the Constitution as necessary to fulfill his oath of office, we really have left the rule of law behind in the ditch.
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